Volunteering in our communities is a great American pastime. Contemporary Americans, overwhelmed with the responsibilities of their own careers and families, struggle just to find the time to cook dinner, let alone donating significant time to help our communities.
However, mentoring is hands-on and it can be a very rewarding community service experience, even for those with no extra time. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are actively participating in formal mentoring programs with children.
How can people with no extra time be a mentor? They simply request to be matched with a child who has similar interests. Then, they can bring the child they are mentoring to the activities they like to do. If they like to garden they can be matched with a child who’s interested in gardening. Whether you like to fish, swim, play basketball, or dance—it can be all the more fun with kids. Mentor-matching agencies and caseworkers help match mentors with children.
One really rewarding thing about mentoring is that it’s such a hands-on personal experience. When you mentor, you are forming a relationship. You can see a child’s joy and watch them grow. Writing a check may do some good, but it’s unusual to directly see any results from it. When you are mentoring, you get to feel and experience the child’s response to your interactions and this is a much more direct way to experience joy from your own giving.
Benefits of Mentoring
Kids truly benefit from the experience. Big Brothers Big Sisters is the largest mentoring organization in the United States. According to their website, children who participate in mentoring programs are less likely to use alcohol and drugs, skip school, or get into a fight.
Eighty-one percent of mentees say that their mentors “… gave them hope and changed their perspective of what’s possible.” In many ways, the results for an individual’s life cannot be calculated.
Volunteering also has benefits for the person providing the service. In addition to increasing your own self-esteem and mental well-being, volunteering provides tangible benefits. According to World Volunteer Web, volunteering helps people learn new skills, feel more connected to their community, and can even serve as a resume booster. Seventy-one percent of employers surveyed say they are more likely to recruit a candidate with volunteer experience on their resume.
Being a Big Brother was a really helpful experience for me. It paved the road for me to get into a social services career. But the best thing about it is that after 12 years, I still see my “little brother” almost every week. Last year after a lot of hard work, four years of college, and four years of varsity track and field, he graduated with his bachelor’s degree. What I am most proud of are the many good character traits he has developed as he has grown into a man.
There are always more children waiting to be mentored than there are volunteers available. There’s a particular need for male mentors.
If you are interested in being matched as a mentor for a child, you can visit the Big Brothers Big Sisters website (http://www.bbbs.org) to find the nearest affiliated center or contact a local mentoring organization in your community.
Michael Courter is a clinical social worker, family therapist, and entrepreneur in Northern California.